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Yoshiro Mori, Tokyo Olympics President, Resigns Over Sexist Comments

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The president of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee has resigned. Yoshiro Mori is stepping down after criticism over derogatory remarks he made about women. This leadership vacuum comes as the Olympic Games, already delayed by the pandemic, are set to open on July 23. And much of Japan is still under a state of emergency because of surging COVID cases, and deaths have overwhelmed hospitals. I spoke with NPR's Anthony Kuhn about what Mori said in his resignation.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Once again, he admitted that his remarks were inappropriate and had thrown the games into chaos. But a lot of the other things he said were not very repentant. He said his remarks, which were - his original remarks to the effect that women talk too much, were actually not intended to demean women and were completely a matter of interpretation. Now, Mori, yesterday, Thursday, tried to handpick his successor. And the guy he chose was an 84-year-old former head of Japan's national soccer and basketball leagues. But to many people, this choice seemed to send a message that it was going to be business as usual. And the organizing committee is now saying they're going to pick Mori's successor, and Mori's pick is out.

MARTIN: So not to extrapolate too far from this, Anthony, but I mean, how - is there anything we can take from this about gender equality in Japan?

KUHN: Yeah, that's what it's really about. I mean, it was reported at first as another gaffe from a gaffe-prone politician. But a lot of people think that this was not a gaffe. These - this was a truthful reflection of what Mori and other male elites really think about women and say behind closed doors.

Another way of looking at it was that this was women demanding a seat at the rule-making table of the Olympics in Japan and an attempt by Mori and others to keep them away from that table. And, you know, many women say that this attitude is exactly why they need a seat on the board and that men already dominate civil discourse in Japan, and when women try to speak up, they're just accused of talking too much. So Mori and the establishment tried to keep this whole thing under wraps, and they couldn't. It blew up, and they couldn't control it.

MARTIN: So here we are. I mean, the Olympics are five months away. There's no one leading them up. The coronavirus is still really bad in Japan. So I mean, what does this mean for the games, Anthony?

KUHN: Well, the official line is that the games will go on at all costs. This is an official facade of confidence which Mori helped to build up. But he has also admitted - he's let slip that this is a facade and he's really not so sure what's going to happen. As we noted, COVID cases - you know, much of the country is still under a state of emergency, and hospitals are swamped.

In the end, I think, you know, Mori's resignation is really less about the games collapsing because he resigned. It's more about public confidence in the games collapsing. And actually, that's already happened because polls show that 80% of people believe that the games should be canceled or postponed.

MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

We appreciate your reporting on this story, Anthony. Thank you.

KUHN: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.